Innovation. Environment. Technology. The three forces accelerating Lower Mainland’s fastest growing city come together at a nodal point called Whalley, a town-centre of significant historic importance in the region and now host to a thriving, diverse demographic. As one of the six town-centres of Surrey, Whalley has stronger footing, firstly due to its proximity with other major cities and secondly because it is the only town-centre in the city home to crucial developments that are paving way for a swift upward trajectory for the city. Undoubtedly, when Surrey centre is touted as the next downtown of the Lower Mainland, Whalley and its residents become the supreme beneficiaries.
Tien Sher Group of Companies’ founder, Charan Sethi, is building on this vision by making Whalley the epicentre of Surrey’s hustle and bustle. Sethi’s projects in Whalley such as Quattro, Balance and Venue have redefined affordable living for individuals and families looking to settle in the Lower Mainland. Since its inception, Tien Sher has been working tirelessly to provide cost-effective residences with a high end feel, in order to meet the growing demand for smaller, elegant spaces. Their diverse range of projects are testaments of their consistent client-focused approach.
“Whalley has a lot of historical value,” says Sethi, who is taking steps towards its redevelopment with the City of Surrey. The prospect of aligning high rises with booming and prosperous communities is not lost on Sethi’s vision for Whalley, hence collaborating Arts & Culture components within high rise projects is a definitive priority. “A vibrant city needs places to connect and our new development will facilitate that because we have all the right elements to make Flamingo Square into a social hub.”
Building community is at the heart of Tien Sher Group of Companies and Sethi’s latest project, Whalley District, which boasts 1119 units and a walkable pedestrian area for the Arts (Flamingo Square) reflects that vision. “The biggest point on this project is that it’s going to have three high rises and one low rise. By the time we are finished with it, there will be a whole bunch of commercial spaces on the ground floor.
It will form a complete community where people can live upstairs and have restaurants and other services available on the ground level,” explains Sethi. The space has a convenient range of transport options nearby so residents can commute with ease. Modeling the development after Yaletown, Sethi hopes to revive the area with a cosmopolitan flavour by not only amalgamating arts and cultural activities with the diverse demographic but also connecting British Columbians with Whalley’s rich history.
Whalley finds its roots in 1925 when Arthur Whalley opened a gas station and a corner store at what became known as Whalley’s corner. Eventually the last name ‘Whalley’ was adopted by settlers coming down into the area while business and commercial activity initiated. In many ways, Whalley was pivotal in stimulating growth for the rest of the region especially after the construction of Pattulo Bridge in 1937.
Present day Whalley has become a focal point of growth and potential for the City of Surrey and its residents. It remains the only town centre in Surrey serviced by Skytrain, is home to Simon Fraser University’s expanding Surrey campus, is the hub of Surrey City Hall activities, flaunts architectural excellence of City Centre library and offers an engaging recreational centre for individuals and families. These facilities are more than enough to cement anybody’s confidence in Whalley’s future. Sethi agrees, “I know a lot of people who are very proud to say they live in Whalley. We’ve already built four buildings here and now a fifth one is under construction.” With a combined experience of more than two decades in the industry, Sethi shares a passion for delivering immaculate buildings. Like his previous projects, Whalley District has created quite a buzz on social media and Sethi remains as confident about Whalley District, as he was about Quattro and Balance. “They (buyers) see the potential of the pricing going up because prices are so low already and they also like the fact that it is walking distance to the Skytrain station,” the developer describes. This is the time for smart investors to buy into the area.
Indeed, the debate on homelessness and crime rates has made many investors turn their back on Whalley, but Sethi and his team believe in Whalley. By adopting forward thinking measures to revive the essence of this historic town-centre, Tien Sher fills in the gap between rapid advancement and affordable living. One of the ways Sethi seeks to achieve this goal is by introducing arts and culture in the town-centre and by having more live cultural activities on the streets, hence transforming it into what he calls a “pedestrian city.” Surrey Mayor, Linda Hepner addresses the issue from the city’s point of view by saying, “Like other cities in the Metro Vancouver region, homelessness is not unique to Surrey and its pressures are being felt across several communities in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.” She further adds, “The City of Surrey and Surrey RCMP have launched its City Centre Response Plan to address the public safety and public health concerns for both the homeless and the community in the 135A Street area.”
Sethi, along with the City of Surrey, is working collectively to diversify this area with his projects, which are not limited to high rise buildings. “We’ll be giving a portion of our building to The Flamingo Square Arts Connection for their programs.” Tien Sher’s in-house team is already in talks with various arts and cultural groups to create a platform that engages and hosts an active arts community, thus bringing new energy and life to an area that was previously neglected.
Surrey Centre MP, Randeep Sarai, believes in the importance of arts and culture as an engaging mechanism for Whalley by saying, “Cultural activities and arts serve as an educational tool, therefore, they allow for a positive display of Surrey’s collective identity and as a result contribute to our overall image. The Federal Government also recognizes the value of enhancement of arts, culture and multiculturalism, which is why we created the ‘Inter-Action: Multiculturalism Funding Program’.”
Sethi’s vision for Surrey resonates with the City of Surrey, and it’s in perfect alignment with their City Centre Plan of January 2017. The influx of individuals, families and businesses into Surrey projects it as one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, and Surrey City Centre stands at the threshold of this advanced and flourishing future. Surrey Mayor, Linda Hepner, shares her vision for Whalley by saying, “We have made great strides in developing the downtown area of Surrey. For example, the area has attracted billions of dollars in investment and has developed into a thriving financial, health technology and university district.”
An array of investments in the region is certain to invite a demographic with a variety of needs including a place to call home and entertain. Tien Sher’s project, Flamingo Square, carefully synchronizes a social space that resonates with these various needs of the existing and future demographic. More than just a beautiful space to call home, the area smoothly integrates communities into the existing area that is on the verge of becoming the next downtown of the Lower Mainland.
Surrey Councillor Tom Gill elaborates on this by highlighting the City of Surrey’s visionary approach for Whalley. He says, “If we can create a number of residential people that live in this neighbourhood who will support the commercial that will happen, that will support shopping. And what it’ll do, it’ll allow us to have that vibrancy that many downtown cores have. So we need a lot [of] people that’ll live, play and work within the immediate neighbourhood and that’s what we are trying to do.”
Penny Priddy, former MP and long-time resident of Whalley, confronts the current challenges Whalley faces. She says, “Whalley is facing the same kind of changes that lots of cities do that are in transition. I always want to say to people, Whalley is not what you just read on the news or saw on the news last night. It’s an old community that’s really quite stable in many ways and now it’s in this big transition period.”
Developers such as Sethi play a substantial role in creating a positive transition for places like Whalley. By engaging with the community, Tien Sher strategizes efficiently to meet the neighborhood’s present and future demands coherently, ultimately solidifying the value the region possesses.
Councillor Bruce Hayne cites Regional Gross Strategy, a document that maps out where future development will occur across 22 municipalities of Metro Vancouver. He says, “City Centre Whalley or City Centre as we are now calling it has a fairly aggressive and large master plan. Surrey City Centre was designated as the second metropolitan core of the region by Metro Vancouver in our regional gross strategy. Surrey City Centre was designated as the second metropolitan core, Vancouver being the first metropolitan core.”
Key stakeholders within Surrey share a common ground when it comes to revitalising Whalley. Sethi maintains his mission in moving towards the future while celebrating the wisdom of the past. On May 29, Sethi is hosting a Town Hall meeting at the Whalley Legion on 13525 106 Ave in Surrey, where he is inviting Surrey residents to view the development and present potential names for his buildings on the Flamingo block. Because he wants to preserve the history of Whalley, he is asking people to suggest historic names and places in Whalley.
As his project portfolio has grown, so has Tien Sher’s commitment to remain driven to bring customers the ultimate experience in urban space living by appealing to all age groups and backgrounds. “I’ll be here for the next 10 years or so to build on what I have here,” the developer states. At the same time, Tien Sher Group is also developing projects on the Vancouver Island and in Nanaimo.